How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health

Are you worried about someone you care about? Approaching someone to talk about their mental health can be challenging. We’ve put together some tips on how to start a conversation about mental health.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Open ended questions can facilitate a discussion because they require more than a “yes or no” answer. Make sure that you ask supportive and non-judgmental questions to avoid taking the conversation in a negative direction. If the person avoids answering an open-ended question, you might ask them to answer your question using a sliding scale, like how are they feeling on a scale of 1-5. This can make them feel more comfortable.
  2. Reassure them that you will care for them no matter what. It can be scary to open up to someone, especially when you are discussing a sensitive topic. Show the person that you support them unconditionally. If you tell the person from the start that you are there to support them and that you will stick by them no matter what they say, they may feel more comfortable opening up.
  3. Treat them with respect. Every person deserves to be treated with respect. If the person you reach out to does not feel respected, they will not open up. Let go of your preconceived notions and judgmental thoughts and focus on how the person might be feeling or what they might be thinking.
  4. Communicate in a straightforward manner. Even though mental health can be a big topic to tackle, be straightforward. Being unclear about the subject you want to discuss can make the other person anxious. It can be difficult to talk about mental health, but don’t be afraid to get right to the point.
  5. Talk somewhere the person feels safe. A person’s environment can affect how they feel. If they feel uncomfortable they may feel tense and unwilling to open up. Whether they feel good out in nature or in their living room, make sure you are somewhere the person feels safe and calm.
  6. Tell them that many people with mental health issues live fulfilling lives. People often fall prey to the stigma that having mental health issues means that you can’t live a fulfilling life. This is false! Maintain a hopeful stance toward recovery by emphasizing that recovery is possible, even if it might not always feel like it.
  7. Sometimes talking side-by-side is easier. This might seem strange, but it’s true! Sometimes talking face-to-face can feel challenging and intimidating, especially when discussing a difficult subject. If you think this might be the case for the person you want to talk to, try talking to them while you are both in the car or engaged in an activity like cooking or walking.
  8. Don’t necessarily give advice right away. As much as you may want to help, giving advice may make things worse. The other person might feel like they are a problem you are trying to fix. Instead, focus on listening to what they say without interrupting them with advice or suggestions. Don’t interrupt them to say, “you should do this” or “you shouldn’t do that”. Being supportive can be as simple as staying silent and engaging in active listening.

– Gabrielle Lesage

Suggested reading: “I Am Not Sick! I Don’t Need Help!” by Dr. Xavier Amador

Click here for references

As seen in the Spring 2022 newsletter.